Race Weekend Central

Tech Talk With Todd Berrier – Making Tires Last at Darlington

Todd Berrier has been working on Cup Series racecars for years. He’s been known for pushing the envelope in the gray area of the rules, but is also known for winning races. Berrier’s best season to date was in 2006, when he scored five victories with Kevin Harvick.

Berrier now sits on top of the box for 2000 Cup champion Bobby Labonte at JTG Daugherty Racing. With the series heading to the oldest speedway on the schedule, we look at what it takes to be successful at the Track Too Tough To Tame.

Mike Neff, Frontstretch: We’re heading to Darlington, the track too tough to tame, where tire wear has always been the most important factor. Since the repave, tire wear hasn’t been as dramatic as before. Do you still have to focus on tire management?

Todd Berrier: Since the repave it hasn’t been as big of a factor but each time we head down there it is getting closer and closer to the old Darlington. It still has a long way to go to get there; at this point you can still take two tires and make it work.

Track position is so huge now, where a few years ago you would take tires after two laps if the caution came out. It obviously is going to get more worn out, and tire degradation is going to be more of a factor than it was last year and even more than the year before. It remains to be seen just how big it will be until we get there.

Neff: On that point, is suspension setup something you can do to help determine the extent of your tire wear? Can you be more or less aggressive, depending on your driver’s style, to help with making the tires last?

Berrier: Absolutely, especially with the way the track used to be. As well as how tracks like Kansas and Darlington old track or Atlanta. You can set the car up for a long run or a short run or whatever. There is a lot you can do to manage the tires with the car. When you get to Charlotte or new Darlington or a repave, it doesn’t seem like anything we do can makes the cars drive that bad.

Now I need to be careful what I say because we’ll go back there and not be able to make a lap. But when you repave a track and a track has a lot of grip, it is hard to drive beyond the limits of that, I think. Again going back to Darlington, we’ll have to see how much the track has aged and how the tire fits at this time. The more and more worn it gets the more it will come into the chassis side of it and making it handle better.

Neff: On the rear end side of things, for a while we had the back of the cars crabbed way out to the right. Then NASCAR tried to rein that in a little bit. It doesn’t seem like, at least visually, the teams are doing that as much anymore. Is that still something the teams are doing?

Berrier: Yes, that is one of the things, since this car came out, that is one of the only absolutes that everyone in the garage has seen that will generate speed. When you yaw the thing around it is going to run faster. NASCAR has just changed the way they tech things again; this year they changed it even more, so moving forward there are even fewer and fewer ways to work to get it farther out there.

Now, if you see someone sticking out there, they’ll issue another rule to prevent it from happening. I think they’ve pretty much got it under control to where there really isn’t any gray area or missing part of the chassis or rear suspension that you can manipulate to get the thing skewed out there more than you could before.

Neff: Speaking on bump stops and coil binding. In theory, is it doing the same thing? You’re stopping the travel of the suspension at some point and then riding on the chassis.

Berrier: Yeah, in theory it is the same thing. It limits the travel. With the coil binding you have to change the angle and how the spring sits over itself. Some of those kind of things and possibly change the rate so that it is progressive or not progressive. With the bump stops, you can add pieces or take away pieces with different durometers of pieces, in essence making it two different sets of springs.

You have your suspension springs and your bump stop springs. Bump stops are a lot more flexible. They give you a lot more options than coil binding. Coil bind you have to have the right spring stop at the right spot. Bump stops you can make the thing softer or harder so that it gets to the point that you want it to stop. It is a lot simpler, easier to adjust, end of the day it does throw another variable in there.

Neff: It is a lot cheaper, too. Isn’t it?

Berrier: I tell you, I think springs are way cheaper. You buy a spring for $1,200 but it doesn’t go bad. At RCR, I’m sure the first spring we ever bought is still there and still in use. They don’t fail, they don’t go bad. The bump stop things, because there is so much adjustability in it, you’re always trying to somewhat build a better mousetrap with them. You’re always changing the profile, changing the material, changing a locating bushing.

Changing something about it to change some way the forces are induced with it. Maybe short term bump stops are cheaper, I’m not sure, I’d have to go back and look, but I know you’re going to continue to spend money with the bump stops. The coil bind thing, you bought the spring and it continued to live until NASCAR changed the rule, the wire in that thing isn’t going to go bad.

Neff: Would you like to see them get rid of bump stops? Seems like about half of the guys want to get rid of them and half like them.

Berrier: I don’t care either way. It doesn’t matter to me at all. I liked coil binding because we were one of the first teams to ever do it and got on board with it a long time ago. Never ran many laps not coil bound until bump stops came out. For five or six years. I don’t care either way.

Whatever they want to do, we’ll all comply. It is what it is. What would happen, there is no way if it did go away, a NASCAR rule would end up mandating that anything you had that is old would not be any good. There is no such thing as a rule that doesn’t cost money. We think it helps cuts costs, but at the end of the day it is all about surviving now.

Too Tough To Tame is not just a nickname, it is the true character of the racetrack in Darlington, S.C. Teams roll into the venerable track knowing that they’re going to have right-side damage and they’re going to have to survive to get a good finish.

Berrier’s driver Labonte has 31 starts on the oval, with one win during his 2000 championship season. The JTG Daugherty crew will have their hands full making it to the end of Saturday night’s race.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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